Every week day, dozens of students, teachers, faculty and parents walk in and out of the commons area at St. Joseph Catholic School.

Every week day, dozens of students, teachers, faculty and parents walk in and out of the commons area at St. Joseph Catholic School.
But many have slowed their commute through since Sunday, when a new colorful mural was hung on the beige walls. The work fuses both art and religion with the talent of students, a goal Principal Peggy Bahr had hoped would further the vision of the school.
“We’re a Catholic school, and I want people when they come in the door to know by the look and the feel of it that it’s a Catholic school first and foremost,” Bahr said. “I felt like this kind of does that for us.”
About 10 sixth-graders from St. Joseph spent nine weeks this fall learning from and painting with Naomi Ullum, professor of art at Central Christian College.
The partnership was made possible by a donation by a parishioner, which was significant because St. Joseph does not have an on-staff art teacher.
Ullum taught the students lessons and vocabulary in drawing and design and let them choose which Bible stories they wanted to place on the mural. After some small tweaking of the drawings by Ullum, the students traced their own works onto the mural and used house paint and bottled acrylics to color the piece.
The final product, which is 22 feet across and 5 feet tall, was painted 70 percent by the students and 30 percent by Ullum. Each student had a hand in painting parts of each panel.
“I wanted it to be their artwork, not mine,” Ullum said. “It was a much more physical art experience for them. What they learned logically they then had to do. I love that. They retain that skill life-long and build confidence in their abilities when they can see the step-by-step growth and what they can accomplish, not only individual but as a team effort. It’s one of those pleasurable experiences to see the next generation flourish in their abilities.”
The collage-like pieces progress from the Old Testament stories on the left to New Testament on the right. At the center is Jesus Christ and memorable moments of his life, and woven throughout the background are stars and planets in front of a blue sky.
Continuity is drawn in several ways. The picture of Jesus’ ascension doubles as a sun in the solar system, and is shown by yellow rays that stretch across each panel. Characters drawn in multiple scenes also are wearing the same clothing.
“The students were a real pleasure to teach,” Ullum said. “It was a wonderful, enjoyable process. I am so proud of them and their dedication. It was a real sense of joy that I saw them show off their work to their parents, family and parishioners.”
These community members were indeed impressed, Bahr said. When the sheet was drawn away from the mural during its unveiling, the principal said she could hear an audible gasp.
“I think they just really amazed everybody in their quality of work,” Bahr said of the students.
Other students in the school also have been impressed, as they talk about it during lunch time. Katie Bahr said she has enjoyed younger students coming up to her and asking about her involvement.
“I’m proud it’s going to be here,” said sixth-grader Kolbi Partain. “It’s not like it’s going to be up there for a couple of days and they’ll take it down. Kids that will come in after the years will say, ‘Oh, that’s awesome, I’ve never seen that before.’”
The peers said they enjoyed learning how to produce various shades and working together on the project. The hardest parts, they said, was painting 3-D objects.
“I’ve always liked art, but I’ve never gone deep into it,” said sixth-grader Katie Bahr. “So it was fun to learn how to paint and draw with detail.”
Teacher Tammy Gibson said she is proud of her students’ work.
“It’s absolutely beautiful and awe-inspiring,” she said.

Contact Jenae Pauls at jenae.pauls@mcphersonsentinel.com and follow her on Twitter @PaulsSentinel